Saturday, 13 September 2014

What do you need for a kitten?

In this post I will discuss all the essential items you need to have for a new kitten, however before we take a look at the practical preparations you can make,  I wanted to spend just a few minutes talking about how your kitten will be feeling when you first bring her home. 

If you are a first time cat owner it's important to bear in mind that the first few days in a new home can be disorientating for a kitten.  No matter how young or old they are, all cats are territorial creatures.  So far the only territory your kitten has known is the place where she was born. Now she has been transported (most likely in the confined space of a pet carrier)  to completely alien territory, and not only that but she no longer has the security of being with her mother either.  Understandably she is going to need several days to adapt to  her new surroundings - and her new family. 

Don't be surprised if your new little feline does not want any close bodily contact from you or any other family member perhaps even for several days after you bring her home.  The chances are she will opt to hide away in a secluded corner of your house somewhere away from everyone until she makes sense of where she is.  By all means try to gently coax her to come to you  and build up trust in the early days, but give her a little space too.

So now to more practical matters.  Here is a list of the things you need for a new kitten:

A cat scratching post

All cats need to sharpen their claws, and unfortunately  certain types of furniture are a magnet for this purpose.  It's a really good idea to buy or make a scratching post and encourage your kitten to use it. Getting her into this habit from a young age will minimize the risk of her scratching your furniture over the coming years. You can either make a scratching post by covering a block of wood with some carpet or buy a ready made post fairly cheaply from a pet supermarket. Once your kitten is old enough to venture outdoors she will more than likely find a nearby fence post, log or tree trunk to scratch away on, but it's still a good idea to keep a scratching post indoors too throughout her adult life.

Litter tray & cat litter 

You can buy new litter trays and bags of cat litter relatively cheaply from pet supermarkets, but an old washing up bowl and some soft earth will do the job just as well if not better, especially if you plan to eventually train your cat to stop using a litter tray and go to the toilet outside.

Pet bedding

You will need to provide a safe and private place for your kitten to sleep when you first bring her home.  It doesn't need to be anything fancy - a cardboard box lined with newspapers and a blanket will do fine. It certainly isn't worth spending any extra money on a bed for your kitten because once he or she has settled into their new home they will almost certainly find their own preferred sleeping place somewhere in the house, and you can guarantee it won’t be any posh pad you have bought for them!

Pet carrier

You will need a carrier to transport your kitten/cat when ever you are taking them away from home. If possible, find a carrier with a wire mesh door so the kitten can see out. It ‘s also a good idea to put some newspaper down in the bottom of the carrier before using it just in case she has any accidents. 

Kitten food

Kittens have very specific dietary requirements and it is important you only purchase kitten food produced by well known brands like Purina, Iams or Hills. Once you have brought your kitten home you will soon get to know her likes and dislikes regarding different flavours and textures. However to begin with it is a good idea to purchase small supplies of specially formulated kitten meat as well as a small box or bag of kitten biscuits.

Food and drink bowls

Ideally you should have at least three bowls - one for wet food, one for dry food and one for water. To start off with a kitten needs shallow bowls for easy access.

Cat/kitten toys

Kittens need stimulation and exercise and you can buy a whole range of specially designed toys very cheaply from pet supermarkets or online to help develop natural hunting skills. You will be amazed at how quickly your kitten will chase an imitation mouse or even a piece of string around the room. Table tennis balls, small balls of paper and cotton bobbins also make excellent toys for your kitten to play with.  You can see a wide range of kitten toys here.

Cat hairbrush 

All kittens and cats benefit from regular grooming - particularly long haired varieties.  Regularly brushing your kitten will reduce the amount of fur she swallows when cleaning herself and will prevent fur balls building up in her digestive system. Most cats love the sensation of being brushed so listen out for those loud purrs when you start brushing!

Cat flap

Once your kitten has been vaccinated you may want to give her  the freedom to go outside and explore. There are a number of different cat flaps on the market varying in price. If you are concerned about other cats coming into your home through a cat flap, you can purchase a flap which is only activated by a magnet worn on a collar around your own cat’s neck. If you decide to have your kitten chipped, there are other more expensive cat flaps you can buy which are activated by the chip.

Other costs associated with looking after a cat

In addition to the day to day essentials listed above, there are other rather more expensive considerations, mainly relating to future medical treatments that your kitten/cat will invariably need. It is a good idea to do some research into the cost of veterinary treatment for a cat before you purchase a kitten so you are fully aware of how much you could potentially have to pay - both in the case of an emergency and for more routine veterinary treatments such as kitten vaccinations and neutering.

A veterinary surgeon

It is important that prior to purchasing your kitten, you contact a local veterinary to find out if he or she is able to accept your kitten as a patient. If you can pop into the surgery, you will find the staff are generally happy to provide you with good quality advice and they can also advise you about the costs involved in your kitten‘s early months.

Pet insurance

There is no escaping the fact that medical treatment for your cat comes with a (sometimes hefty) price tag. It is certainly worth doing some research into the cost of pet insurance as there are some reasonably priced policies to be found. Most cats live until they are in their mid/late teens and some even longer, so you could find that a small monthly payment for pet insurance is money well spent.

A cat-sitter

Young kittens should not be left at home unattended for long periods of time, but once they become an adult you will need to think about care arrangements for when you go away on holiday etc. The ideal scenario is to find an  accommodating neighbour to take care of your cat whilst you are away from home, as this is generally the least stressful option for the cat. However if this is not possible, you will need to identify a local reputable cattery and find out how much they charge.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Why do cats bite when you pet them?

When your cat jumps into your lap, purring contentedly and rubbing her head against your hand, you naturally assume she is in the mood for being petted. But then BOOM - out of nowhere – it’s like someone has flicked a switch. In a matter of seconds your sweet natured cat morphs into a seething ball of rage. And if you don’t pick up on the very subtle warning signs quickly enough, you will find to your cost that the hand stroking your cat is the hand she bites!

So just why does this happen?

The first thing to understand is that a high percentage of cats do not actually like being picked up and/or stroked repeatedly. In fact some cats do not like being petted at all. Whilst they might be quite happy to sit and fall asleep on your lap, they may not necessarily want you to stroke them.

Cats are very sensitive creatures and if the stroking becomes too fast and furious they can easily become over stimulated. When this happens the feelings of affection suddenly turn to feelings of aggression. The cat then instinctively feels the need to defend itself and responds by biting/scratching.

Being the territorial creatures that they are, sometimes a cat will sit down on her owner’s knee if there is a visitor in the house. This doesn't necessarily mean she is in need of fuss and attention, all she is in effect doing is saying “hands off – she’s mine!”

What are the warning signs that a cat is about to bite you?

Because my own cat Cleopatra is one who has been known to “turn” on me whilst she is sat on my knee being stroked, I have learnt how to spot the tell tale signs that an attack is imminent. The first give away is when she stops sitting perfectly still and starts to fidget and become generally agitated. Sometimes I notice her fur ripples whilst I am stroking her too. This is the point when I know it is time for the petting to stop.

Once the stroking stops she either settles down again quite happily on my knee or she jumps down and walks away.

If you continue to stroke a cat after she has shown obvious signs of becoming agitated, her tail will start to swish meaningfully from side to side, then she will more than likely slowly turn her head towards your hand, with pupils dilated and in a matter of seconds you will be wincing with pain as her teeth sink into your hand.

Why do cats carry on purring whilst they bite you?

Knowing what independent, head-strong creatures cats are it always puzzles me as to why my cat does not simply jump down and move away as soon as she starts to resent the petting. Cats are, after all, very quick to let you know when they don’t want you to stroke them, or even come near them whilst they are sat quietly on their own somewhere. But for some reason it doesn't work like that whilst the cat is sat (voluntarily) on your knee. For as long as you keep on stroking her, your cat will continue sitting there purring, irrespective of the fact that she has in actual fact started to feel very trapped and aggressive. The only way I can describe it is that it’s like a crossover from the cat feeling relaxed and contented to her feeling over stimulated and aggressive by you petting her. And when she attacks you she hasn't completely switched off from feeling contented.

How can you tell if your cat wants to be petted?

If you are like me and you own a cat that is prone to biting whilst being stroked, there is an easy way to test the water if your cat decides to jump up on to your knee. Once she has made herself comfortable, try stroking her very gently once or twice with your finger tips on the top of her head to see how she reacts. If she instantly starts to stiffen and become agitated you can take it that she just wanted to be close to you (and share your body heat!) but does not want petting.

Should you scold your cat if she bites you?

Tempting as it is to scold your cat if she randomly attacks you in this way, I know from experience this will only exacerbate the situation. The best course of action if you are unfortunate enough not to detect the warning signs of an attack early enough is to simply put some distance between you until you have both calmed down.

If it is out of character for your cat to suddenly bite you when you are stroking her, it may be that there is an underlying problem which you need to investigate further. Perhaps she has been injured during a fight - or developed some kind of painful internal condition that requires attention. 

Some cat owners take it as a snub if their cat repeatedly shies away from any form of petting. But no offence is intended. Cats have many different ways of showing their love for their owners, such as following them around, sleeping on the bed next to them, or simply just being in the same room.  Your cat will have her own way of showing you how much she cares about you, but it just may be that it doesn’t involve having constant close physical contact.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

What are the signs of a healthy kitten?

If you were presented with a litter of fluffy kittens, all huddled together around their mother, it would be an almost impossible task to choose one over another. All kittens are charming and adorable little creatures.

However, as with all young animals, kittens are weak and vulnerable, and taking home a sickly kitten could result in a great deal of heartbreak. My first cat Jasmine was given to me by husband as a Christmas present, the first year we were married. She had been abandoned along with her brothers and sisters at what I believe now must have been around 5 weeks old. In other words she had been taken away from her mother far too early. Needless to say I fell in love with her the moment I set eyes on her, but I must be honest there were moments over those first two weeks of owning her that we almost lost her. I remember sitting up with her, wrapped in a blanket, feeding her from a pipette and taking advice from my veterinary over the phone during those early days of her life with us. It wasn't until around two weeks later we knew we had come through the other side, but it could so easily have gone the other way.

This is why you should ideally try and see a kitten with her mother and siblings prior to taking her home, and find out exactly how many weeks old she is. You will instantly be able to make a quick assessment of the kitten’s overall general health and the kind of background she has come from.
A healthy kitten should be lively, alert and quick to respond. Even from a very young age the hunting instinct is noticeable within a cat. Dangling a piece of string on the floor in front of a healthy kitten should provoke an instant reaction.

Throughout the first 12 weeks of a kitten’s life, her best teacher is her mother. Although most kittens are able to eat independently by the time they are 8 weeks old, and they will also have been shown by their mother how to use a litter tray, she continues to teach them social skills until they are 12 weeks old.

You may be very keen to bundle your 6 week old kitten up and take her home with you as soon as you see her, but leaving her with mum for a few more precious weeks will make for a much more contented, and sociable cat in the long term, and will make the transition to your home less traumatic.

A trip to the veterinary is an absolute must for any new kitten, but here are some simple health checks you can carry out yourself before making your final decision about whether or not to take a kitten home with you.

1 - Eyes

A healthy kitten will have bright and clear eyes, with no sign of discharge. You should also check to see if your kitten has a visible “third eyelid”. This is a thin white coloured membrane just underneath the cat’s eyelid which provides protection for their eyes. Usually you cannot see it unless you stroke backwards over the cat’s head and ears, but if it is instantly noticeable in a kitten without stroking, it may be a sign of ill health.

2 – Nose

Look closely at your kitten’s nose – it should be clean and dry.

3 – Ears

A healthy kitten should respond quickly to sound by twitching her ears and adopting an alert expression. Her ears should be clean with no discharge visible.

4 – Coat and skin

The kitten’s skin should feel firm and supple to the touch and her coat should be soft and dry. You should also gently prise back the fur along the kitten’s spine and behind her ears so you can check for traces of fleas. If the kitten is affected, you will notice tiny pieces of black grit stuck to her skin around her spine, tummy and ears. (See below for further details about parasite treatments for kittens.)

5 - Stomach

The kitten should not be thin and her tummy should not be distended. Although a cat’s stomach is a sensitive area, if she reacts too aggressively when you very gently stroke her stomach, it can be a sign of underlying problems.

6 - Tail

The kitten’s tail should be clean and dry, and if you very gently lift her tail there should be no signs of soreness or infection around her anus.

Your Kitten's First Trip To See the Veterinary

Within the first few days of obtaining your kitten - whatever the circumstances - it is advisable to arrange for a veterinary to do a full examination so that if there are any underlying problems you are not aware of these can be dealt with quickly.

Kitten vaccinations

Before you allow your kitten to venture outside you will need to arrange for kitten vaccinations against feline infectious enteritis, feline leukaemia and feline influenza,  This is something your veterinary will discuss with you.

Protecting your kitten against parasites

All cats need to be protected against parasites continuously throughout their entire lives. During your initial visit to the veterinary, you will probably be offered treatment for fleas and worms irrespective of whether your kitten is affected. Blood sucking parasites are a real danger to kittens as they do not have as much blood as an adult cat and have not got the ability to scratch. Even if your kitten is not affected by parasites you would be well advised to treat her regardless.

Parasite treatments prescribed for young kittens work in the same way as those given to adult cats. The only difference is the dosage.

The most popular type of flea treatments come in  liquid form and are usually packaged in a pipette shaped sachet for easy administration to the skin on the back of the kitten’s neck, where it cannot be licked off. Although pet fleas are a problem normally associated with the summer months, with many homes having central heating, your cat can be afflicted by fleas during the colder months too. It is for this reason you will need to treat your cat for fleas once every 4-6 weeks all year round. Before you purchase any type of flea treatment, make sure you check your cat’s weight. You will need this information in order to establish the correct dosage.

Protecting your kitten against worms generally involves sprinkling a small amount of granules on her food once every few months, but you can also buy worming treatments in pipette form that are applied to the back of the cat’s neck in the same way as flea treatments. Worming treatments usually do not need to be given as often as flea treatments (the average time is around once every 3-6 months).

For your cat’s well being it is a good idea to leave two weeks or so between administering flea and worming treatments.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Why do cats purr?

Cats usually purr when they are communicating feelings of happiness, contentment and affection. However, they also purr when they are ill or afraid. My first cat, Jasmine took me completely by surprise on more than one occasion when I heard her purring whilst she was in a highly stressed state being examined on the vet’s table. It was not in any way the same as the contented purr you hear when a cat is being stroked – but it was purring nevertheless!

From a very young age a kitten uses her purr to communicate contentment to her mother whilst she is feeding. The mother cat reassures her kitten by purring back.

From this point on a cat uses her purr to communicate satisfaction. When you stroke her, play with her or present her with a dish full of her favourite food she will convey her appreciation by purring.

Sometimes my cat will jump on my bed purring very loudly when I am half asleep. She doesn't particularly want stroking but she certainly wants to be warm, comfortable and close to me. Other times she will walk right in front of me, or rub around my legs purring very loudly, and this is basically telling me she wants me to pick her up and give her a cuddle. If I ignore the signals, the purring is replaced by loud meows, and indignant expressions until I do exactly what she wants.

Can a purring cat have a positive effect on humans?

Studies have shown that having a purring cat sitting contentedly on your knee can actually help lower blood pressure and decrease stress levels. There is also evidence to suggest that cat owners are less likely to suffer from heart attacks than non cat owners, which could be in some way connected to regular sessions of purring therapy.

I personally believe cats have a kind of sixth sense about when their owners are feeling low for one reason or another. I can recall a number of times over the years that one or the other of my cats has seemed to make a point of jumping up on my lap when I've been going through a particularly bad time, or have been feeling ill – and other cat owners have told me they have had the same experience. It’s almost like they know when you need comfort from them.

There is something about the actual sound of purring that we as humans find soothing, but there is also reason to believe the low frequency vibration given off by a purring cat can actually help ease pain and heal tendons. This links in with yet more scientific research which found cats use purring as a form of self healing as well as a form of communication.

How do cats purr?

This is rather a mystery, but it is thought that as the cat breathes in and out and the air hits the vibrating larynx muscles in the throat it produces the purring sound.

Do big cats purr?

Tigers, lions, leopards and jaguars are physically incapable of purring, but they do make other sounds which indicate contentment. The reason they cannot purr is because the bone connecting their tongue to the roof of their mouth is flexible, thus allowing them to make a roaring sound, but not a purr. In several other species of wild cat and domestic cats also, this same bone is solid, which means they are able to purr but not roar.

Why it should be that cats make this unusual little rattling sound to express contentment, fear and pain is not truly known. However what we do know is that purring is exclusive to cats, it has a therapeutic effect on humans and it is yet more confirmation that no matter how hard we try, we will never fully understand our beautiful feline friends…

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

At what age can a female cat become pregnant?

When you look at your cute and playful 6 month old female kitten excitedly chasing a soft toy around the room, you may find it hard to believe that she is in fact sexually mature enough to become a mother to her own kittens.
What makes this all the more confusing for new cat owners is the fact that kittens continue to grow – and are still considered to be “a kitten” - until they are aged 9 -12 months old. Many cat food manufacturers also recommend that you do not treat your kitten as an adult cat for feeding purposes until they reach this age. Not only this, but most young adult cats continue to display kitten-like behaviour until they are several years old. My 4 year old cat Cleopatra still occasionally has what I call her “kitten” moments when she chases a small ball around the room and rolls on her back for a gentle tummy tickle! Add all this together and it is easy to see why many first time cat owners would quite simply not even consider the possibilities of their female kitten becoming a mother.

But appearances can be deceptive and the truth of the matter is that all kittens – both male and female become sexually mature - and start to become sexually active - from the age of around 6 months old (sometimes slightly younger). It may not be advisable or particularly safe for a female cat to become pregnant before the age of 12 months, but it is most certainly possible. Any female kitten that remains un-spayed beyond the age of 6 months onwards will in effect remain “in season” for most of the year until she either falls pregnant or is spayed. And the cycle does not stop once the female cat has given birth either. Some queens have been known to give birth as many as three times in a year. 

How do you know when a female cat is in heat?

Probably the most noticeable sign a female cat is in heat is that you will hear her making a strange and very high pitched meowing noise known as her mating call. You will recognize it straight away as being a totally different type of sound to her usual meow - it is quite piercing and distinctive.

She may also become much more affectionate than normal, repeatedly weaving herself in and out around your legs and rolling on the floor. When you rub her back she may adopt the mating position, by raising her back legs and treading.

You will notice she is no longer content to stay indoors all day and she will develop an overwhelming urge to “escape” outside to fulfill her natural urges. The older and more independent she becomes, the harder it will be for you to stop her from bolting outside the second you open your front door!

So in conclusion, if you want to avoid running the risk of any unwanted pregnancies, you would be well advised to arrange for your kitten to be spayed once she reaches 4-5 months old, before she goes into heat. If your kitten is older than this and has started to display some of the behaviour outlined above, then take it as a warning. Un-spayed female cats are quite literally a magnet for all the un-neutered toms roaming around out there and it is more of a certainty than a likelihood that your female cat will end up pregnant if she is allowed outdoors unsupervised.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Do Cats Need to Drink Milk?

Has anyone ever said to you “you look like the cat that got the cream” when you are feeling smug and happy about something? Well you may be surprised to know that in reality the cat that gets the cream is not always a particularly happy one.

I am not altogether sure where the association between a cat and a saucer of milk comes from – perhaps it is a myth that was created by various cartoon cat creators over the years. What I do know is that many cat owners believe they are giving their pet a treat by offering them a saucer of milk or cream to drink when in fact, the reverse is true.

Whilst some cats do enjoy the taste of cow’s milk, it is certainly not a dietary requirement and offers no nutritional value for a cat. If he drinks too much milk it could actually stop your cat from eating all the meaty stuff that is good for him, resulting in him being malnourished. 

Furthermore, giving your cat milk to drink on a regular basis can actually cause him to have a constant upset stomach. The reason for this is because most cats are unable to digest lactose - a type of sugar found in cows milk.

The only kind of milk a cat ever actually needs is his mother’s milk when he is a kitten. From when he is weaned onwards his life would not be adversely affected if he never drank another drop of milk again.

If you’re not convinced by all the evidence and you still feel you want to give your cat milk to drink there are specially formulated cat milks you can buy from pet stores and some supermarkets but even these should be given sparingly and they do not act as a substitute for good quality cat food and a bowl of fresh drinking water.

My personal opinion is that it’s best not to offer your cat milk to drink in the first place. There are plenty of other ways you can give your cat a little treat that will not result in him suffering from digestive problems afterwards. In my experience a handful of freshly cooked fish or chicken pieces never fail to tick the right boxes!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Why do cats fluff up their tails?

You can tell a great deal about your cat’s mood by looking at his tail, but contrary to what a lot of people think, a fluffed up tail does not always represent fear and aggression in a cat.

When my cat is in an ultra lively mood, she will sometimes run madly around near me, as if she is trying to catch something. When I turn around to see what she is doing, I notice her stood still right next to me, her eyes all wide with her tail upright and fluffed up like a feather duster. I can, however tell by her body language that she is in the mood for play not fighting and it is usually the cue for me to bring out a piece of string, or find a nice strong branch in the garden for her to chase after.

When a cat is in direct confrontation with another cat you may notice his tail fluffing up, as well as the fur all over his body. What he is in fact trying to do is make himself appear bigger and stronger than his opponent. He will probably be standing upright and looking dominant.

When he is ready to “go into battle” with his opponent, his upright bristled tail will slowly move into an arched position, and he may start making a low growling noise. If you ever see your cat adopting this aggressive stance in front of another cat, the very last thing you should do is pick him up in order to prevent the impending fight. His opponent will almost certainly run away as soon as you intervene, but your cat will still be well and truly in attack mode for a few minutes afterwards. If he is in your arms whilst he is in this frame of mind, it is very likely he will direct his aggression at you.

Alternatively if you notice your cat in close proximity to another cat, crouched down with his ears flattened and a downward pointing fluffed up tail this indicates he is frightened. It could also suggest that he is trying to avoid any further aggression.

Even though a fluffed up tail can represent a range of emotions in a cat, it is quite easy to determine your cat’s mood by also observing his general demeanor and body language. As a general rule, if a cat has a fluffed up tail when in close proximity to another cat, you can almost guarantee he is not in the mood for cuddles!